10 Goals for 2014

I am sitting at the American Airlines terminal at LAX waiting to board my flight to New York. If you’ve read even one of my blog posts, you probably know how much I love New York.

A few months ago, on January 2, I wrote a note to myself on my iPhone titled, 10 Goals for 2014. It’s somewhat revealing that I only managed to write down six goals before I lost interest or got distracted.

Number 3 on my list, just under “book and shoot a commercial” I wrote “visit New York twice.” Eric and I try to visit New York every winter/spring. This year we joined our friends Michael and Kim there in February. And now, here I sit, next stop JFK. If all goes well, I’ll be in New York in just a few hours.

I don’t say all this to brag. In a way it’s comical, 2 visits to New York in a year has been my resolution for about 10 years now, so it’s not like I’m, like, unstoppable, when I put my mind to something. I’m stoppable all right, plenty stoppable.

But this time, it looks like my goal will come to fruition. Not completely unrelated side note: I’m also on track to complete my goal of swimming 365 miles this year.

And this really isn’t me bragging. I’m so much more comfortable talking about my failures. There are just so many of them. I always feel like it’s more accommodating to be self-deprecating.

So I am a guy who seldom achieves his goals, but today, I hope to achieve one of those 10, I mean 6, goals for 2014. And I have to let it give me hope that before 2014 is over, I might also lose those 25 pounds and book that commercial. And if I can do it, by all means there is so much more hope for you!

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Guest Blogger, Dayna Williams-Capone: First Job at Riverside Pool

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As summer sadly slips away, I can’t help but remember the Augusts of my youth, when I tried valiantly to get in as much swim time as possible before Riverside Pool closed for the season, boarding up with its concession stand and basket room, my hopes and dreams of becoming the next Rowdy Gaines or Steve Lundquist. Of course, my friend Dayna Williams-Capone, sister of guest blogger Joel Williams, was one of the lucky ones, she actually worked at the pool. A few weeks ago, I asked her if she had an interest in writing about those days, and she graciously agreed. So, please enjoy this account, you can almost smell the chlorine, watermelon Now & Laters and iodine laced baby oil with every sentence.

First Job at Riverside Pool

Ever since Ray and I started talking online in early June about our hometown I have been thinking about my first job and how I view that experience today in comparison to my image of myself and feelings about that job when I was 15. It was fun getting in touch with a couple of people I worked with back then and by doing so I realized how differently each one of us remembers (or forgets) a past shared experience. Thanks Ray for giving me a chance to share this.

Riverside Pool in Independence, Kansas is a place I remember with a sense of excitement and contentment. Opening day at the pool was what I daydreamed about during those final May days of school. It was the place to meet friends and be a bit more independent. Starting in about 5th grade, my mother would often drop me off at the pool on her way back to work from lunch and pick me up at the end of her work day.

The summer I was 15 I got a job at the pool working in the concession stand along with a good guy friend of mine. It was a perfect first job as I would spend my mornings and late evenings playing tennis at the courts next to the pool and then head over for work. It was a not so perfect job as I spent my time waiting on bratty children trying to decide if they wanted a Chick-O-Stick or Tangy Taffy while the lifeguards flirted and paraded around in their latest swimsuits.

I had an in for the job as my dad and the pool manager were friends who both taught at the local community college. Having my friend to keep me company and knowing the manager were a big plus because I found the older and cooler lifeguards and the jock who ran the basket room (where you checked in your towel or extra clothes) to be intimidating. Those 2 – 3 summers at the pool taught me a lot about people and self-confidence and what it meant to be or not to be one of the cool kids.

The lifeguards were at the top of the social ladder at the pool followed by the jock in the basket room and bringing up the rear were us kids in the concession stand. Our job was to look the other way when the lifeguards came in to pilfer Zero or Snicker bars out of the refrigerator or to be their audience as they discussed last night’s party, a new boyfriend or how sunburned they were getting. The biggest compliment to receive from the lifeguards was to be dragged out of the concession stand and thrown in the pool. It didn’t happen often, but it meant they really liked you. Those summers I was the sounding board and observer to unrequited love, hangovers, an unplanned pregnancy, engagements and leaving home for college.

The most exciting event during my summers at the pool was the year I was invited to the end of summer party at one of the lifeguard’s rental house. I couldn’t believe my good fortune to be a part of the cool kids club and how was I ever going to have this experience without letting my parents in on all of the somewhat questionable things that might happen there. There was going to be beer and purple cold duck in those little glass bottles. People would be smoking who knows what and they had driver’s licenses and cool sports cars.

I went, I saw, I drank enough beer to have no effect. Afterwards I spent the night with my close friend and I’m certain we dissected all my adult experiences. My friend who had a menthol smoking older sister with a wild side understood my need to experience this party, but also the uncomfortable feelings of not quite knowing how I fit in.

Looking back on that party it was more of an opportunity for everyone to prove to everyone else how worthy they were. Each person was there to show off his/her gifts. It could have been the gift of making great ice cream, telling the best jokes, drinking the most beer, being the most daring by having the illegal contraband, being the best dressed or having the cutest date. Because of our youth it all became a competition, we weren’t ready to appreciate each other’s gifts, to overlook faults, to build each other up.

At 15, fitting in was important and it was very difficult to be the person I was growing into. Sometimes in our adult lives our 15 year old selves emerge and bump into each other. Experience and wisdom sometimes help mitigate our feelings of inadequacy and competitiveness. Other times it’s easy to fall back into old habits. I’m much happier now than at 15, but still enjoy remembering all of the interesting and difficult things I experienced in that small town in Kansas.

Seize the Day.

bf07db6e45549504e8e6fb34bd80ba64I was sitting in the theatre today watching the (fairly) new film Richard Linklater film, Boyhood. If you haven’t seen it, I recommend carving out 3 hours for it. I generally hate movies over 90 minutes solely on principle, but I did love this one. As you can guess, you feel like you’re watching 12 years pass because you are. I think a lot about the passage of time anyway, but I kept watching Ethan Hawke, wondering what happened to that floppy haired boy from Dead Poets Society, the one I loved so much. I mean, I like the grown up version fine, but I’ll take Dead Poets Society and Dad versions of Ethan Hawke any day. (I think we are close enough in age that that doesn’t sound too creepy. I hope.)

Back to Boyhood, though. It’s beautiful, I laughed a few times and wept exponentially more times. My drive home was melancholic, I stopped at Trader Joe’s on the way to pick up groceries. I made the mistake of getting behind a woman who had much more in her basket than I thought and I kept thinking, how is it that, no matter what, I always pick the wrong line at the grocery store? I pulled out my phone to check my Facebook, the first thing I read was my friend Alan asking if Robin Williams’ death was a hoax or not. The first I’d heard of it, I scrolled through my news feed and quickly deduced that it was not a hoax.

Ten minutes later, the woman in front of me walked away with her seven bags in her cart. As she was leaving she complained to the manager that her bag had ripped because the cashier had overstuffed the reusable bag. She told the manager this as the sweet cashier was giving her a free replacement. When the cashier turned to me, she gave the slightest of eye rolls. “I know,” I offered in commiseration. And I stood there wanting to connect with her, to tell this 20-something multi-pierced zaftig hipster that I felt her pain. “Did you hear that Robin Williams died?”

“Wait. What? When?”

“I just read it on Facebook.”

“Oh no, that just ruins my day. He was like, my childhood. The Genie…Do they know how he died?”

Because I did not want to make her day worse, I didn’t tell her I’d already read that it was a presumed suicide. “I don’t know.”

“I know he had some health problems,” she innocently offered.

“It’s really sad,” I said.

“They say it’s a suicide,” the guy behind me, phone in hand, offered. Better for you to tell her than me, I thought. From the look on her face when I first told her, I seriously thought she might have been related to him.

“This is so sad,” she said. We all agreed. She asked if I needed validation, I told her I did, she validated my parking and the three of us said goodbye as I walked away, headed for my car.

I thought about The Fisher King and Dead Poets Society as I drove home, pondered how one could probably not have played those roles if one did not understand something about sadness. There was always something sad behind the twinkle of those eyes.

I do not remember when my Facebook feed has been so filled with people telling their just passed celebrity stories. This feels different from Phillip Seymour Hoffman or Michael Jackson or Whitney Houston, not worse, necessarily, but different. I can’t in this moment put my finger on it, but I think it has something to do with the nurturing teacher he played in Dead Poets Society, a movie that I remember watching over and over again when I was a budding youth minister. When I was a youth minister, I made my kids watch the movie, I seem to remember making them all stand on their chairs and shout, “O Captain, my captain.” I did and do want them to carpe diem, to seize the day.

When I was watching Boyhood today, I thought about all the big ideas I had when I was the age of the films protagonist. Now my wishes are so much simpler: family, friends, pets, enough money, a little travel, a really good book, the chance to explore some layer of my creativity, joy.

For the most part, I do understand that Robin Williams was not Garp or Mork or Mrs. Doubtfire or John Keating, but there was something of him, undoubtedly, in every character he played. Maybe the manner in which he died will forever color or carry a tenderness to the way we remember him, I don’t know.

Tonight, I watched YouTube clips from Dead Poets Society. I started to post the one where John Keating tells his students to make their lives extraordinary, a sermon of sorts. Then I watched the clip of the end, where all the students stand on their chairs, saying farewell with final “O Captain, my captains.” But then I found this, the one I’ve posted, the scene where Ethan’s Todd Anderson makes his first connection to what he’s been studying and what he has stewing within him. And Robin Williams is at his best, his sad eyes twinkling with pride that his student finally sees something in himself that he’d seen all along. Maybe this is so sad for us because he had this something special, this rare grace that enabled him to reach through the celluloid and place his furry hand on our own sweaty, pimply foreheads and persist and cajole and encourage until we realized that we, too, all of us, were poets as well.

A Trip to the Baths

sc0591f38fTennessee Williams’ Amanda Wingfield is a character that I understand. That scene when she appears in the dress in which she “led the cotillion,” the way she waxes about all the gentlemen callers, the opportunities she once had as a young girl, I understand it all. I, too, was once young. And if Amanda appears foolish for trying so desperately to hold onto those treasured days, it’s a foolishness that most of us relate to, perhaps some of us more than others.
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Yesterday, in my blog about three different San Francisco men, I touched on the fact that I’d made a visit to the remains of the Sutro Baths. The Sutro Baths were a large swimming pool complex built in the 19th century. It closed in the 1960s and a fire destroyed the building not long after. For decades, people have visited and walked around the ruins that face the Pacific Ocean. The venerable Cliff House is nearby and tourists and locals can visit both together.

It had been years since I’d hiked around the Sutro Baths ruins. When Eric and I were in the city in June, we drove by, but did not stop and explore. But Tuesday, when I was tooling around the city, I felt I needed to go there, a mission of sorts.
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When I lived in San Francisco, I visited the Sutro Baths on occasion. I must confess, anything with the word baths in it’s name just sounds kind of sexy to me. I’ve seen the old pictures and the reality is probably not nearly as sexy as what I’d imagined. But still, I am a swimmer and I do love history so there was an appeal.

In the summer of 1997, my friend Greg Zukowski, a friend from New York and also a photographer, came to visit San Francisco. We got together and he asked me if I wanted to do a photo shoot with him, maybe something out and about in San Francisco. Because I was young and still loved the idea of having my picture taken, I said yes. I suggested we go to the Sutro Baths and that is where the majority of the pictures were taken. He took picture after picture, I gave him pose after pose. I smized, I tooched. I took off my shirt and posed shirtless. I’ve never had the best torso, but I’d run several miles that morning and felt confident. He asked if I wanted to take off my shorts for a few pictures. And, I figured I’d already been naked in a play and this was San Francisco, really, why shouldn’t I? So I dropped my shorts and posed for a few shots, my Speedo tan line, complimenting my summer skin. I don’t remember ever feeling more handsome.
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I also felt unlimited possibility. I had broken up with my boyfriend but we had remained friends, in fact we still lived together. These were my last weeks in San Francisco; I was moving back to Los Angeles and looked forward to starting the next chapter in my life. I know it’s a cringe-inducing confession, but I thought I was going to go back to Los Angeles and get an agent and start booking commercials and guest starring on Friends and Ellen. Of course, that’s not really how it went down, but, hey, that’s the great thing about hope: it gives you hope.
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Months later, when I was living in Los Angeles, Greg sent me a bundle of pictures with a letter saying that one of my pictures was going to be in an art show he was doing. He sent me a flyer for the show with an image of me. I was thrilled. I felt famous. By then, my Los Angeles reality was not shaping up the way I’d hoped. I still lived on my friend Amy’s couch, not making enough money to get an apartment. I dated with some regularity, but every guy paled in comparison to the ex-boyfriend I’d left in San Francisco. I was lonely and lost. But I loved my little bundle of pictures, they made me feel handsome. Years later, I am so happy I have these wonderful pictures taken by my talented friend Greg.

All of these things were in my thoughts as I wandered around the Sutro Baths on Tuesday morning, taking pictures of the ocean and the rocks and the ruins instead of selfies, because, as it turns out, I don’t like most pictures of myself anymore. Like The Glass Menagerie, it was my own memory play. I’m not young anymore and some days I mourn it’s loss more than others. But there on that overcast breezy morning, with each salty breath I took in, for a few minutes anyway, I was 29 again, slim and tanned and young with a world of boundless opportunity before me.
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You Have to Give Them Hope

harvey-milkI am home after a whirlwind trip to the Bay Area. A friend of mine, Michael Gaffney was doing a reading of the one man show he’s been working on for a few years now and because I’m not working and I could, I decided to drive up for it on Monday and come back last night. He lives in the East Bay and the show was in Berkeley. I thought I was going to head home yesterday morning, but the City by the Bay called to me. I could not be that close to San Francisco without crossing that bridge, both literally and metaphorically.

So, I drove first to Coit Tower. I parked on Sansome, I think, and decided to climb the Filbert steps to the Tower. I huffed and puffed my way to the top, and enjoyed the lovingly restored structure with WPA murals and an ancient Otis Elevator and took several pictures from the observatory deck. And then I took another set of steps down, back to my car. As I was pondering the mixed blessing that living in one of these Telegraph Hill apartments would pose, I noticed a plaque, in a garden. This was Grace Marchant Garden and the plaque itself was to honor a man named Gary Kray who tended to the garden from 1979 to 2012. “His selfless dedication to friends and flowers will always be remembered.” Of course, I wondered if Gary Kray might have been gay, reasoning that any man who tends to a garden, in San Francisco, for 33 years, well, it’s possible, if not likely. This morning, I found his obituary where a friend shared that Kray’s big loves were San Francisco, Paris and the British Monarchy, so, you can draw your own conclusions. His obituary also told me that he worked nights as a cab driver so he could maintain his garden during the day. I thought about the sacrifice he made for doing something he loved and how that sacrifice touched the hearts of so many people. And his work lives on. Anyone, tourist or local, can stop and enjoy the flora and fauna as they take in the spectacular views: it’s a legacy.
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After a quick visit to the Sutro Baths and the fairly new incarnation of the Cliff House, I headed to the Castro for a quick lunch before hitting the road. I walked by The GLBT History Museum, and thought, this is my solo San Francisco adventure, I should check this out. It’s basically one large room and one could spend 15 minutes or a couple of hours there. What struck me most was the section dedicated to Harvey Milk. There was a hologram image of Milk and a blue button with instructions to push the button to listen to an excerpt from his famous tape recording that is featured in the film Milk, where he surmises that an assassination might be imminent and he conjectures what his legacy might be in the event of his death. I had turned away from the hologram as I listened to his words, while looking at pictures and artifacts, I heard him talk about someone from Altoona, Pennsylvania who called him, sharing that Milk’s election had given him hope. Harvey Milk also offered that, if he was assassinated, he would hope to see “every gay doctor come out, every gay lawyer, every gay architect come out, stand up and let that world know.” As I pondered his legacy, I turned around and noticed that the hologram was gone and through the glass, I saw a blood stained suit laid out. My response was surely the curators’ intention because I was truly shocked by its presence. As Harvey Milk continued to speak, I scanned the crimson soiled shirt and tie and jacket. As I became a bit emotional, his words were both a salve and a call to action. His life and death affected and inspired so many people, all races, all sexual identities, all ages.

I thought about Gary Kray and Harvey Milk as I drove down the 5 last night. How these San Franciscans had had these very different, but enduring legacies. They both were a product and a tribute to a city that holds many treasured memories for me.

I must confess now that I’ve buried my lead, and I did it on purpose. Because even more than Gary Kray and Harvey Milk, the person I thought about most as I travelled home was my friend Michael. He’s been the subject and guest star in several of my blogs as well as an occasional guest blogger. His show, at Berkeley Playhouse, a one night only event (so far), was a staged reading of his solo memoir The Oldest Living Cater Waiter: My Life in Three Courses. While he’s been a professional actor for over 25 years, he’s also been a cater waiter for several years. His story is about the juxtaposition of the two careers, the two worlds. It was something I clearly related to, having worked in restaurants, on and off, since I was 19, but it’s a universal theme. Who among us can say that our lives have turned out exactly the way we thought they would? Michael’s story made me laugh and cry, with honesty and humility and passion and tenacity. It must also be noted that the theatre (designed by Julia Morgan, btw) was filled by other artists and cater waiters and artist-cater waiters who love and root for Michael as much as I do. I think it’s rare for someone to be as loved, treasured as he is. I’m so proud of the work that he’s done on this show and I look forward to the next chapter.

So, three men. Three very different legacies, but they were the men who permeated my thoughts and even spoke to me on that long drive home last night. I remembered another famous speech by Harvey Milk, about giving people hope, its importance, and how each of these three gave and give me hope in their own ways. It could have been a lonely trip, but I felt I was in good company.

Book of John

johnevanThere is a group that I belong to on Facebook whose aim is to bridge the gap between the glbt and conservative Christian communities. There is a fellow in the group who repeatedly posts things from his Biblical perspective that homosexuality is a sin. He is strident and does not appear to absorb or even ponder what other members of the group have to say. Most, but not all, of the members are people who grew up in the church and struggled for years before they reached a point where they started to accept themselves as is. We share our stories and connect. But this guy, he just kind of comes in, lobs a grenade and runs away, never responding to other members’ constructive comments about whatever he has posted. After a couple of weeks pass, he repeats his cycle.

I could wonder why this man, a young, Midwestern husband and father, is so fixated on that Biblical issue, but I’ll never really know his story. And that’s fine. I’ve never met him. I personally don’t have any interaction with him. I don’t respond to his posts. But he does remind me of someone I know.

When I lived in New York, I was a member of an amazing church. I moved to New York knowing no one, they helped establish me in the city, they were my first friends. When I came out to the pastor and his wife nearly a year after I’d moved to New York, their first words were affirmation that I would always be a part of the congregation. By that point, their words and deeds had led me to suspect as much, which, it goes without saying, was a tremendous relief in a tumultuous time in my life.

And I guess the reason I knew that I would still be loved, accepted at this church was the way the congregation loved and accepted a man named John. There are things I’ve probably forgotten about John and perhaps things I’ve remembered not quite precisely. John was gay, probably in his fifties. He never in my presence talked about his sexuality, but I’d been told he had a long time lover that had passed away. He was a greeter, always one of the first people to welcome you and give you a bulletin of the church program. He always wore a suit and tie, always had a kind smile.

John and I spoke every Sunday, it was a small congregation. I have no recollection of any specific thing we discussed, but I thought he was a nice guy. I liked him. I also, probably, foolishly, pitied him a little.

One Sunday, months before I came out of the closet, but certainly while I was wrestling with my sexuality and my identity, I was asked to preach a sermon. It just happened to be gay pride weekend, the day of the parade. And while my sermon was not completely about my perceived interpretation of homosexuality being Biblically immoral, I remember I touched on how the gay people celebrating on Christopher Street did not know the “truth.” While I was writing the sermon, I thought about John and how my words might hurt his feelings, but I reasoned, John needs to know what the Bible says. As if in his 50-some years no one had ever told him. Just thinking about that day, I cringe. I don’t remember John ever treating me any differently after that sermon. I also don’t remember John treating me any differently after I came out to the church less than a year later.

When I moved to Los Angeles, I lost track of most of the people in that church. I find that sad, too, because, they were very, very good to me. I do not know whatever happened to John. It seems possible I heard he’d passed away, or maybe he moved to Florida.

There is one thing that gives me comfort when I think of my fervent sermon about God’s truth that long ago gay pride weekend and that is John knew what was going on the whole time. I was a fresh-faced, corn-fed, passionate Midwestern boy who had moved to New York with a dream, or two. And he knew before I knew, I was on the road to becoming the person I did become. He’d seen it all.

So that’s why I have a little patience with the guy in my Facebook group who lobs dagger after dagger. I think he’s working through his own issues, and let’s be clear, his issues may not even be my issues, but there is something going on that’s shaking his faith. And my wish for him is peace in his spiritual and emotional life. Whoever he is, I want him to accept it.

I don’t doubt that John wanted the same for me. There is an irony that at 46, living in Los Angeles, the stories I most gravitate to are stories about gay culture in New York in the 60s, 70s, and 80s. If I’d known John a little better, I might have had a mentor, my own historian.

I can hope that John knew the influence he had on me, but I doubt he did. Still, I’ll always remember him fondly, a sharp dressed gentleman of a certain age, greeting not just me, but everyone, into the flock, with open arms and a welcoming smile.

Willie’s Redneck Rodeo

912spnDSGJLIt was one of those jaw dropping, did I really just see that moments. I was on Facebook, per usual, scrolling through posts and I stumbled upon a picture of someone’s kids in long grey beards and bandanas. That really can’t be what I think it is. And I read the attached caption. This person’s children had been at Duck Dynasty Vacation Bible School all week. I had no idea such a thing even existed.

I did a little research when I saw it, a few weeks ago. Apparently, there is a Duck Dynasty curriculum for everything: Vacation Bible School, teen programs, adult programs. That family really knows how to make money. Wow! If you go to a Christian publishing website, you’ll see how many Duck Dynasty created items are out there. I guess I didn’t quite realize the depth of their influence.

“It seems like, to me, a vagina—as a man—would be more desirable than a man’s anus. That’s just me. I’m just thinking: There’s more there! She’s got more to offer. I mean, come on, dudes! You know what I’m saying? But hey, sin: It’s not logical, my man. It’s just not logical.”

Now, I really try to keep my blog as clean as possible. I seldom swear here, I don’t talk about sexual acts, of any kind. That quote above, you most likely know, is from a GQ interview Duck Dynasty patriarch Phil Robertson gave a few months ago. It ignited a controversy, which I believe he, and the family, too, knew would erupt in the way that it did. My Facebook newsfeed was full for days, weeks, even still, with folks weighing in on the interview and the subsequent interviews. Most of my friends, obviously, expressed disdain, discouragement, disappointment. And also, a handful of people I know expressed pride. “I’m with Phil!” was posted by a guy who I only remember as being a jerk in high school and the last time I saw him, sometime not long after college, made fun of me to my face about being gay.

This family, they have struck a chord with the American public. Whether or not I like them or watch them is irrelevant. What is relevant is that they are influencing people and probably not in the best ways. The whole fallout over this initial interview was to position themselves as Christian martyrs, suffering for their faith.

In all of the interviews, snippets of episodes, merchandising, I have seen nothing that deters me from my initial reaction which is Money is their God. There is nothing they love more than making money. I don’t think living to make money is such a bad thing, sometimes I wish I was a little more money motivated. If I was, I would probably have more of it.

As a whole, I do not think they are good role models, for anyone, but it especially scares me that what they are selling is being sold to grade schoolers. This particular VBS, Willie’s Redneck Rodeo is nothing more than a rehash of the Parables of the Gospel, the implication being that the Bible itself is not interesting enough to be taught as is, so one must put a beard and bandana on it.

They proclaim that their message is not anti-gay, but it is. I am not alone in that observation. I don’t believe in talking to children about adult topics, that they should be shielded from certain life realities for as long as possible. There is just something about choosing these people who are so famous for their polarizing lifestyle that doesn’t sit well with me.

I am sure not everyone who reads this will agree with me. I wasn’t going to write about this, I generally tend to avoid political stuff because I’m no expert about anything, except maybe The Brady Bunch, The Facts of Life, and shamefully, Big Brother. But, hey, it’s been on my mind, on my heart, and I wanted to express it.

Ultimately, I guess that family reunion this weekend is still on my mind. Maybe it’s because I was raised in the church that I was a little surprised by the way my family wholeheartedly embraced Eric with such open arms, from my 7 year old cousin Angelica to a distant 80-something cousin who when Eric and I were leaving whispered in my ear, “I like your friend.” We just want to be part of the family.